I know. You’ve heard the story before. Black celebrity being unfairly tried and hanged by the media before a jury even hears a case – or worse yet, before any charges are even filed by law enforcement authorities.
You’ve even heard it about this particular celebrity, the often maligned ’90s crooner Robert “R.” Kelly, one of R&B’s biggest stars who when he wasn’t breaking chart records in the ’90s and ’00s, was certainly having his share of personal problems. Girl problems.
Now R. Kelly is being persecuted yet again by the media, this time after a story ran in Buzzfeed News about the legendary R&B singer and an apparent “cult” of up to six young women he’s allegedly harboring at homes he’s renting in Chicago and Atlanta.
A confirmatory article later ran in the blog rag Jezebel, in which one of the women gave an insider’s account of what allegedly went on inside Kelly’s harem during one particularly weird encounter.
Kelly, the 50-year-old self-proclaimed “Pied Piper of R&B” whose biggest hits include turn-of-the-century gems like “Bump ‘N Grind,” “I Wish,” “Ignition (Remix),” “Step In The Name Of Love,” “You Remind Me Of Something,” “Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)” and “Your Body’s Calling,” was the top R&B artist of the 1990s. Yet he’s spent the better part of the current millennium fending off allegations of sexual misconduct, child porn and now the alleged sex cult consisting of women between the ages of 18 and 26… roughly half his age – or less.
Disclaimer: journalists have to use the word “allegedly” when writing about these kinds of things because, well, they are just that – unproven allegations. And, by definition, allegations are “unsubstantiated” accusations of wrongdoing – ones that haven’t been successfully prosecuted in a court of law, proven by indisputable evidence or admitted by the accused himself. They only become “fact” when one of those things happen.
And in this case, R. Kelly certainly hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing when it comes to the many young – sometimes underage – girls… er, women… to whom he’s been linked over the years.
Yet these types of allegations have surfaced about Kelly ever since he rocketed to fame in 1991 with tunes like “Slow Dance” and “Honey Love.” In one disturbing case, video evidence even appeared to show the singer committing a lewd sex act with a teenage girl on whom he apparently urinated while engaged in a sex act with the minor. Kelly was later tried and acquitted for child pornography charges in that case. He’s since reportedly settled numerous sexual abuse cases out of court with payments that are tied to non-disclosure agreements.
Let’s face it, when a man with Kelly’s sordid history adopts the moniker “the Pied Piper of R&B,” it’s either a matter of total self-awareness and braggadocio or complete ignorance. And given the singer’s history of being linked to minors (remember, he married a 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994 when he was 27 – around the time he wrote and produced her début album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number), it seems like this Pied Piper is more the former than the latter.
Note: for those who don’t know, the Pied Piper was a mythical character from the 13th Century who used his music to lure children from the German town of Hamelin to their ultimate demise. Next time you’re Chicago-stepping to “Step In the Name of Love,” think about that when Kelly utters the line “yeah, it’s the Pied Piper of R&B y’all, follow me.”
But here’s the odd and unfortunately predictable part about all of this. Each time another salacious R. Kelly story breaks, black Twitter (and Facebook) is set ablaze with debates about whether he’s guilty or innocent, and whether this is yet another relentless, racially motivated pursuit to hang one of our brothers before a trial jury is even handed a case. Even more disgustingly, the characters of the women involved – and their parents – are generally assassinated, as if the girls are to blame for their situations.
Even more compelling – in the eyes of his defenders – is that we live in a world where the largely caucasian movie “50 Shades of Grey” gets celebrated, and a then-58-year-old man brags about grabbing women by the p***y and gets elected as president some 12 years later. Surely an R&B singer like Kelly should be left alone to do whatever he wants with any consenting female.
These arguments get played out on repeat more than Kelly’s last hit song, “Same Girl” (his 2007 duet with Usher, which was the last time he reached the top half of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, btw).
And I get it when it comes to the incessant coverage of and heated debates about Kelly. People naturally flock to scandalous stories when they involve celebrities, sex and personal demise. It’s like watching the proverbial train wreck.
But there are two issues here: the question of Kelly’s guilt and the motivation behind those persecuting him. And as easy and tempting as it is for humans to do so, I don’t believe any one of us is qualified to pass judgment on the first. The only people who can legitimately do that are the ones who were there – and a judge and jury who’ve been presented with evidence – which excludes almost all of us.
In fact, for this latest accusation involving the sex cult – uh, I mean the “alleged” sex cult – a crime hasn’t even been named. It all appears to be consensual… for what that’s worth. At least that’s what authorities who investigated the situations concluded. The women are apparently all of legal age in the states where they’ve taken up residence with Kelly. They’re all living with him “by choice,” although the reportedly Svengali-like conditions – including no outside contact, sex on Kelly’s demand (sometimes with each other), brainwashing and controlled eating and hygienic situations – would make anyone of reasonable mind cringe.
Yet, it’s the latter issue – the one where Kelly’s plight is tied to conspiracy theories about potentially racially biased media persecution – that has Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets also exploding. Many of our people – weary of an uneven society in which those of African descent are constantly on the wrong side of justice – tend to hold Kelly up as yet another example of this imbalanced scale. It’s the O.J. Simpson/Bill Cosby syndrome being played out once again.
In too many minds, R. Kelly is viewed as another victim in a society that relentlessly prosecutes its black men – even when the real victims in this case may be the wayward black women he harbors against their will (whether they know it or not). And it’s really sad when you realize that black women are likely the only species in America that society values less. Any defense of Kelly simply reinforces that notion.
If the allegations against R. Kelly are true, we should be outraged that they occurred. Yeah, the women may be of legal age, but that just means Kelly got a little smarter and decided that 17-year-old legal p***y is much safer than the slightly younger, 15-year-old girls over whom he allegedly held dominion (and for which he got in trouble as a man in his 30s years ago).
You’d think the outrage over that alone would outweigh the conspiracy theories about taking down another black man. But people still come to Kelly’s defense, claiming his is a case of another brotha who just got too high and mighty and who needed to be knocked down a few pegs by mainstream society… this despite mounting evidence – circumstantial or otherwise – against him and despite the many claims of sexual misconduct by the women, many of whom are black, who’ve encountered him over the years.
But guess what my folks… it’s time to stop the madness.
Whether Kelly is guilty of a crime or not, he should not be made to be an ambassador for our societal issues. Sure, he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but there are certainly better, more legitimate cases of wrongly persecuted black men – some whose lives were lost innocently while their killers are still walking free.
If people want to believe R. Kelly hasn’t done anything wrong, that’s fine and certainly within their rights to do so. But to hold him up in our ongoing argument for social justice – while denouncing our women in the process – just isn’t cool.
Kelly’s problems are either a matter of his choice or the result of a serious illness. If it’s the latter, then he needs help. In any case, the women and girls involved certainly need help and protection from people like him. Every time someone holds up the proverbial “free R. Kelly” banner, it ignores those facts and enables him and others like him to continue doing what they’re doing, legally or otherwise.
There are so many more legitimate issues out there negatively affecting us… and the Pied Piper of R&B’s current plight is not deserving of our latest rally cry. Our cause for justice against the things that really hurt us is diluted each time we do.
Truth be told, R. Kelly’s career hasn’t really even suffered from the allegations. We knew Kelly liked little girls when he enjoyed most of his post-Aaliyah success in the 1990s and ’00s. And current stars as relevant as Lady Gaga (2013’s “Do What You Want”) have recorded with him this decade. Any downturn can be attributed to the artist’s age and the demise of R&B in general, not his reputation. Note: songs like “Ignition (Remix)” and “Step In The Name of Love” still get oldies play on the regular.
In other words, R. Kelly still has a record deal and seems to be doing just fine, despite the current and former allegations against him and whatever settlements are contained in those sealed agreements with his accusers.
Bottom line: find a more worthy ambassador for our societal issues, and let R. Kelly (with his team of no-doubt highly paid lawyers) fend for himself, whether these latest allegations are true or not.